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WASHINGTON — The EPA is pursuing rule changes that experts say would weaken the way radiation exposure is regulated, turning to scientific outliers who argue that a bit of radiation damage is actually good for you — like a little bit of sunlight.

The government’s current, decades-old guidance says that any exposure to harmful radiation is a cancer risk. And critics say the proposed change could lead to higher levels of exposure for workers at nuclear installations and oil and gas drilling sites, medical workers doing X-rays and CT scans, people living next to Superfund sites and any members of the public who one day might find themselves exposed to a radiation release.


The Trump administration already has targeted a range of other regulations on toxins and pollutants, including coal power plant emissions and car exhaust, that it sees as costly and burdensome for businesses. Supporters of the EPA’s proposal argue the government’s current model that there is no safe level of radiation — the so-called linear no-threshold model — forces unnecessary spending for handling exposure in accidents, at nuclear plants, in medical centers and at other sites.

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  • Radiation Hormesis: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
    Dose Response. 2006; 4(3): 169–190.

    Over 3,000 scientific research papers show that low dose irradiation is stimulatory and/or beneficial in a wide variety of microbes, plants, invertebrates, and vertebrates (Luckey, 1980a, 1991, Muckerheide, 2001). Using the parameters of cancer mortality rates or mean lifespan in humans, no scientifically acceptable study was found which showed that less than 10 cGy was harmful.

    When compared with non-irradiated controls, cohorts exposed to low dose irradiation show statistically significant increased physiologic functions (Luckey, 1991). Lightly irradiated rodents were more fertile than controls through several generations (increased ovulation in dams, increased number, viability and growth rates of young, and faster physical development of young) with no evidence of mutations in the young exposed in utero. Irradiated colonies were maintained in good health through 21 generations.

    Kaplan (Kaplan, 1949) successfully treated sterility in women with low dose irradiation (about 90 cGy of X rays to the ovary in three weeks). Three generations showed no adverse effects. There was no evidence of genetic damage from 351 pregnancies in 644 irradiated women, “… the incidence of genetic damage to the children and grandchildren of this group is less than that in the normal population.”
    Low dose irradiation activates the immune system in several ways: faster wound healing, and increased resistance to toxins, infections, and tumor cell injections (Luckey, 1991). Lightly irradiated animals survived doses of radiation which killed all unexposed controls. Lymphocyte production was increased by low dose irradiation. The search and destroy function of lymphocytes is facilitated by destruction of the radiation sensitive T repressor cells; this allows other T cells to be more efficient (Hellstrom and Hellstrom, 1979). When compared with strict controls, cancer mortality rates were significantly decreased (almost 50%) in accidentally irradiated nuclear workers (Luckey, 1991, 1997a).
    Low dose irradiation produced statistically significant increased average lifespan of laboratory animals and humans (Luckey, 1991, Ina and Sakai, 2004). Japanese bomb survivors exposed to low dose irradiation have statistically significantly longer average lifespan than those of control populations (Mine, 1991). When compared with the control population, the risk of non-cancer deaths in 22,777 Japanese atom bomb survivors increased only when the dose exceeded 155 cGy (Shimizu, et al. 1992, Pierce and Preston, 2001).

  • Will the new threshold be safe for pregnant women who work in these fields? How will radiation affect reproductive health? Even men who are regularly exposed to low levels of radiation are more likely to have children with birth defects. How will this affect sperm count and egg health? Cancer is only one piece of the puzzle.

    • Few scientists believe that low-level radiation exposure by fathers causes their children to have more birth defects. You cited no source for your claim. Even high-dose radiation exposure by parents doesn’t seem to cause a significant increase in cancer risk to their offspring.

      An important study was conducted in 1989 relating to this:

      The Children of Parents Exposed to Atomic Bombs: Estimates of the Genetic Doubling Dose of Radiation for Humans

      The data collected in Hiroshima and Nagasaki during the past 40 years on the children of survivors of the atomic bombings and on the children of a suitable control population are analyzed on the basis of the newly revised estimates of radiation doses. No statistically significant effects emerge with respect to eight different indicators. Since, however, it may confidently be assumed some mutations were induced, we have taken the data at face value and calculated the minimal gametic doubling doses of acute radiation for the individual indicators at various probability levels. An effort has also been made to calculate the most probable doubling dose for the indicators combined. The latter value is between 1.7 and 2.2 Sv. It is suggested the appropriate figure for chronic radiation would be between 3.4 and 4.5 Sv. These estimates suggest humans are less sensitive to the genetic effects of radiation than has been assumed on the basis of past extrapolations from experiments with mice.

      J.V.Neel,* W.J.Schull.† A.A.Awa,‡ C.Satoh,‡ H.Kato,‡ M.Otake,‡ and Y.Yoshimoto‡

      *Department of Human Genetics, University of Michigan Medical School, Ann Arbor; †Center for Demographic and Population Genetics, University of Texas, Houston; and ‡Radiation Effects Research Foundation, Hiroshima

    • Cancer death rates have been in decline in the United States. The section of the US with the highest background radiation levels (Rocky Mtn states) have the lowest overall cancer rates, while the gulf states, with the lowest background radiation states, have the lowest overall cancer rates. Granted, there could be confounding factors.

      Most people do not understand that radiation exposure is necessary for life. Animals deprived of radiation exposure have lower life spans.,

  • It’s called radiation-induced hormesis, and it’s a real thing. It up-regulates the DNA repair enzymes. That said, I don’t think it’s a good idea for anybody below the age of 50 because the DNA damage from radiation presents a life-long risk. The older you are, the less you should be bothered by the risk.

    roughly equivalent to 25 chest X-rays or about 14 CT chest scans

    I believe this is a serious underestimate. I’ve heard that a CT scan is about 150 times radiation dose compared to a conventional X-ray. I don’t know the actual numbers from peer-reviewed research, but the idea that one CT scan is equivalent to about two conventional X-rays seems not very plausible to me.

  • Again, the nonsense idea that science is connected to consensus or prestige. Hormesis is an interesting and important hypothesis. Equipment manufacturers and users don’t need government rules to make safe products.

    • You would trust producers & manufacturers with safdty??
      Ths free market is in a race to as many shodtcuts in safety as it can get away with. Government is designed “to promote the general welfare” of humans, not the unfeeling $$$!!

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